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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 September, 2003, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Blair defiant over Iraq
Tony Blair and his wife Cherie arrive at church in Bournemouth
Tony Blair and his wife Cherie attended church in Bournemouth
Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted that he was right in his decision to go to war with Iraq.

Mr Blair, who faces a rough ride at the Labour party's annual conference in Bournemouth, said he did not think he had anything to apologise for.

The prime minister was later given a boost as it emerged that delegates at the conference will not vote this week on motions over the UK's involvement in the war with Iraq.

Instead, votes will be held on manufacturing, pensions, employment rights and health.

It means Mr Blair will be spared the possibility of an embarrassing conference defeat over Iraq, though the prospect of a snub over union rights and foundation hospitals remains.

The prime minister told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost that the link between terrorist groups and oppressive states was a real threat.

In a passionate defence of his position, Mr Blair said there would be no withdrawal on controversial plans to introduce foundation hospitals and university top-up fees.

I think we did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein... and I don't think we have anything to apologise for as a country
Tony Blair

The prime minister also insisted that he wanted to serve a full third term and said "there was no deal" with Chancellor Gordon Brown about handing over power.

Asked if there was anything he would have done differently in relation to Iraq, Mr Blair replied: "Nothing. I would have done exactly the same.

'Evil intent'

"We did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein. The world is a safer place without him.

"His country has got the prospect now of building a stable and prosperous democracy, which will have a huge impact on the whole of the Middle East.

Tony Blair

"And I don't think we have anything to apologise for as a country. Our soldiers did a magnificent job. They are absolute heroes at what they've done.

"I believe as powerfully as I did at the time that making sure that that man is no longer in charge of Iraq, with all the evil intent that he has, is a good thing for his country, for the region, for the world."

Mr Blair said he did "not accept that it was wrong" to use weapons as mass destruction (WMD) as the reason for going to war, despite leaks of an interim report by the Iraq Survey Group that no such weapons have been found.

He urged people to wait for the report to be published, insisting the world knew "perfectly well" Saddam had the weapons and programmes.

The prospect of terrorist groups obtaining WMD from a rogue regime was a "real and present threat", he added.

Whatever the battering you get, I actually feel more confident of our forward agenda
Tony Blair

Mr Blair said British troops would stay in Iraq "until we get the job done", although he did not think it would be as long as five years.

The prime minister's envoy in Baghdad told BBC News coalition forces could bring peace to Iraq - without the help of any other nations.

"It would be a very good development if we had a wider international involvement - but that doesn't mean we cannot do what needs to be done with the forces we have deployed already," Sir Jeremy Greenstock added.

Mr Blair admitted his personal popularity had taken a battering recently - most notably over Iraq - but said he had no intention of stepping down.

Labour has not been so low in the polls since 1987 when Neil Kinnock was leader and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

Mr Blair said it was "no wonder" people felt like that when they read some accounts of the Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly, which was "not always accurately reported".

Labour conference speeches:
Monday: Gordon Brown
Tuesday: Charles Clarke; Tony Blair
Wednesday: Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Jack Straw; Geoff Hoon
Thursday: David Blunkett
However, despite strong opposition from some quarters in his party, particularly the trade unions, he said he intended to continue with plans for public service reform.

"There will be no withdrawal," he said.

On foundation hospitals, he argued that if people were going to get medical treatment "irrespective of their wealth" they "should be willing to try these new ways of working".

On top-up fees, he said the present funding system of universities would not encourage "more working class kids" to attend.

He also refused to rule out a referendum on the UK joining the euro before the next general election.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"He wasn't backing down"


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